369. British Armour in the Normandy Campaign 1944
by John Buckley
Many, if not most, modern writers who tackle the Normandy Campaign of 1944 lambaste the British command and government on the subject of the 21st Army Group's armoured forces. Professor John Buckley questions some of the basic thinking behind these attacks. While agreeing that when faced with German Tiger or Panther tanks, Britain's Shermans, Cromwells and Churchills were outclassed in terms of fire-power and armour, Buckley points out that the majority of German tanks were neither Tigers or Panthers. And when the Germans went on the offensive again the British, their armoured forces fared little better. The configuration of the British armoured divisions were ill-suited to the close quarter attacks against a determined and well armed foe. The lessons of the Western Desert, which resulted in most British tanks being armed with US medium velocity guns capable of firing high explosive but no so much use against Tiger tanks and Panther front armour, did not in many cases apply in Normandy. Buckley argues that the British tank troops learned quickly on the job and ended the campaign with workable solutions to many the problems they faced. He also works hard to dispel claims that British tanks crews proved unacceptably "windy" in the face of their German opposition. Anyone with an interest in the Normandy Campaign should at least consider what Buckley has to say.
368. The Century of Warfare
by Charles Messenger
I'm not convinced Charles Messenger, once one of the most prolific British writers on matters military, wrote this book issued to accompany the television series of the same name. In the first three pages there are two howling errors. Kaiser Wilhelm was not a great nephew of Queen Victoria, he was her grandson, and the Second Boer War did not involve Dutch-speaking South African settlers attempting to establish their own republics but rather a British attempt to annex the existing Transvaal and the Orange Free State. The book then settles down into a workman-like but even-handed summary of warfare and conflict between 1900 and 1994. The book is heavily illustrated but sadly too many of the pictures are fuzzy screen-grabs, presumably taken from footage used in the TV series. The book towards the end has another obvious howler which once again damages its credibility; not all the hostages at Entebbe in Uganda were rescued in 1976: one elderly woman passenger from the El Al flight who was in hospital when Israeli commandos staged their rescue was murdered. I am not sure if the fact that the book was not copyrighted not by Messenger but by the makers of the television series goes anyway to confirm my suspicion that the former was not the author, or at least not the sole author.
367. Afrika Korps
by Major KJ Macksey M.C.
There are those who say this was one of the best of books in the old circa-1970 Purnell's Illustrated History of the Second World War. It certainly is an excellent summary of the war in the Western Desert and Tunisia between 1941 and 1943. Author Kenneth Macksey was an armoured corps officer during the Second World War and knows of what he writes when he praises the Deutchshe Afrika Korps as one of the finest fighting forces of the conflict. German commander Erwin Rommel is the main character in this tale and Macksey is not blind to his limitations. Rommel's British opponents dubbed him the Desert Fox and built up his reputation to disguise their own inadequacies. There were several occasions when if the British commanders had even reached the giddy heights of mediocre generalship, they could have caught Rommel out when he over-playing his hand. And there were other times when the Afrika Korps's sheer professionalism and fighting spirit got Rommel out of a hole he had dug for himself and for them. As usual with the this series of books, there are maps and photographs aplenty.
The September/October edition of History Scotland magazine included a two page article I wrote looking at who really captured a French general in 1808 and why the credit might have been given to another member of the Highland Light Infantry. The official version of General Brennier's capture by the HLI at Vimeiro has gone down in British Army legend, "We are soldiers, Sir, not plunderers", but what ordinary members of the regiment had to say, or did not say, about the episode paints a less flattering picture of it and its aftermath. As the November/December issue is now available, here is the article The Real Mackay?
Pension Misery Highlighted
The Dorchester Review , a leading Canadian magazine when it comes to history, is carrying an article I wrote about British Army pensioners, many who served under the Duke of Wellington's command, who were caught up in a disastrous scheme which involved them giving up their pension entitlement in exchange for land in the British Colonies or United States. I became interested in what happened to the so-called Commuted Pensioners after realizing one of the main suspects as a contributor to Vicissitudes in the Life of a Scottish Soldier had been lured to Canada under the scheme.
The latest edition of Canada's Dorchester Review features not one but two articles from Paul - Churchill in the Trenches and Drug Store Commandos. The first link takes you to an extended version of the article which appeared in the DR about Winston Churchill's time in command of the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers on Western Front while the second is an article about the Lovat Scouts training in the Canadian Rockies as mountain warfare specialists.
Canadian Connection with With Wellington in the Peninsula?
The British Canadian newspaper ran an article in its May edition about a possible connection between one of the soldiers in my new book With Wellington in the Peninsula and a disastrous government scheme to settle ex-soldiers in Canada while depriving them of their pensions.
Irish Terrorism in Canada
In between working on a major project, I wrote another article for the Dorchester Review here in Canada. The attempt by terrorists to destroy a Canadian canal lock in 1900 is often dismissed as being the work of bunglers. But a closer look reveals a tale of murder and links successful bombing of the House of Commons more than a decade earlier. Few seem to know that one of the gang was found dead with a bullet through his heart. Attempts by US politicians, including President William Taft, to persuade the Canadian authorities to release the terrorists is better known. Dynamite Dillon
Also see - Dorchester Review
The Dorchester Review, based in Ottawa, Canada, recently published an article I wrote about one of the more eccentric of the British regiments - Victoria's Royal Canadians. Most Canadian historians seem unaware of that a regiment was raised in Canada to fight in the Indian Mutiny.
The Winter Issue of the Scottish American Military Society's magazine The Patriot contains a two page interview with yours truly. I thought the least I could do in return was give them a plug. At a later date, I'll see about either linking to the article or posting a version of the interview on the SMD site.
It’s been a busy few weeks. Last Saturday (Nove. 3) the Scottish Daily Mail published a two page spread under my byline about the 2/10th Royal Scots campaign against the Bolsheviks in northern Russia 1918-1919 titled "The Tsar's Fighting Invalids". I’ve found a link to a site which carries the article but before I post it I want to make sure I’m not sending you somewhere you might regret going. The Daily Mail article let the cat out of the bag when it comes to the fact that I’m working on a new book – working title, Jock and Rorie – Tales of Scottish Soldiers. Read about the Forgotten War
Scottish Military Disasters has been launched as an e-book. And it’s now improved.
Preparing the book in e-book format offered the chance to correct some minor errors.
“I wouldn’t say it’s worth someone who has the print version going out and buying the e-book,” said author Paul Cowan.
“But in preparing the e-book we’ve corrected a couple of little irritating misprints and one mistake that probably only annoys me and a couple of my relatives.”
The book is one of the first from the Neil Wilson Publishing catalogue to be released as an e-book.
“Neil’s stable of authors includes such giants as Nigel Tranter, so this is a real honour for me,” said Cowan.
“This will make the book far more accessible to readers in Scotland and around the World – and also in certain countries far more affordable.
“I’ve found where it is reasonably priced overseas, it’s been selling like hotcakes.”
Glasgow-based Neil Wilson said the move into e-books was as a result of public demand.
Wilson teamed up with the respected e-book team at the Faber Factory for the conversion to the new format which will make Scottish Military Disasters available on a variety of devices, including most e-readers and mobile phones.
“We will also go online with Apple soon,” he added.
For details of how to buy the e-book version –
The debate over whether Scotland produces some of the finest fighting men in the World could go on for ever. What is certain is that pride in the military is woven into the Scottish psyche and that that pride has been ruthlessly exploited by the British Establishment.
In the popular imagination the Scottish soldier is a kilted infantryman. The infantry are the men who go through the meat grinder in almost every war and Scotland has provided the British Empire with more than its fair share of infantry. In the fighting after D-Day in 1944 a British study suggested that although the infantry made up only 25% of the troops involved; they suffered 71% of the casualties.
(While I can’t put my hand on my heart and say my research for Scottish Military Disasters points to the Scots having the worse military record in Europe, for most of recorded history it hasn’t been very spectacular. People remember Bannockburn because it is one of the few battles against the English that the Scots won. Even when the English were heavily outnumbered, at battles such as Flodden in 1513 and Dunbar in 1650, they still managed to win. Many English, and Irish and Welsh soldiers for that matter, regard their Scots counterparts as a bunch of blowhards who write cheques with their mouths that their battlefield performance fail to honour. The counter-argument goes that the Scots go that extra mile to back up their boasting.)
But where does this Scottish martial pride which encouraged so many young Scots into the infantry during two world wars come from?